Top of my bucket list. A place I thought I would never get to see. The beautiful Taj Mahal in Agra. And what’s more, with some crafty itinerary planning, we’re visiting it on my birthday. Today is a very special day for me!

Up at daft o’clock for the short walk in darkness from our hotel, to be amongst the very first visitors admitted, to see the Taj at sunrise. We bought our tickets from the office, before queueing for security. As with so many tourist attractions in India, nationals pay only a few rupees whereas foreign visitors pay a considerably higher price. Our tickets were 1000 rupees each (about £12). Security at the monument is the tightest I have ever experienced. No large bags allowed; small bags put through an X-ray scanner; no sharp objects allowed; no pens / lipsticks etc which might be used for graffiti; no sweets or cigarettes which might result in litter. Separate queues for metal detector checks and body searches for ladies and gents – including a very thorough pat-down by military security, while their armed colleagues watch on from behind armoured screens.

Practicalities over, we headed for the Darwaza-i-Rauza or Great Gate, and our first full view of the Taj Mahal. I’m sure everyone knows the story behind the Taj Mahal – commisioned by Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife Arjumand Banu Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal or ‘Jewel of the Palace’. Her marble sarcophagus is placed centrally inside the mausoleum, inside an eight-sided marble filigree screen. Shah Jahan was later laid to rest here, and his sarcophagus is set to one side of his beloved Mumtaz. In the early morning light, the Taj has an almost ethereal quality about it. My few random photos taken with a phone really don’t do it any justice!

After a few hours exploring the Taj and its gardens, we headed back the short distance to our hotel for a very welcome late breakfast! More sightseeing in the afternoon, though, as we took a taxi the few miles across town to Agra Fort. Our hotel concierge arranged the dropoff and pickup taxis from the hotel’s own fleet of cars – hassle free and at a sensible price!

Tomorrow, a last look around Agra, then the train back to Delhi.